North Texas Daily

CVAD gallery hosts Congolese artist’s first solo gallery

CVAD gallery hosts Congolese artist’s first solo gallery

CVAD gallery hosts Congolese artist’s first solo gallery
July 01
13:00 2022

Clad in golden suits made of spray-painted digital debris, The Kongo Astronauts channel their frustration with a post-colonial reality.

Through an Afrofuturistic lens, they present their first solo exhibit, “Congo Gravitational Waves// a Metadigital and Tantalean Tale.” From June 14 to Sept. 3, the exhibit is available to the public at the College of Visual Arts and Design. 

The Kongo Astronauts are a Kinshasa, Congo, based duo featuring Michel Ekeba and Eléonore Hellio. While they create a fantasy of otherworldly travel, Ekeba and Hellio also highlight the effects of late-stage capitalism and modernity. 

“Aisle of Dreams” is a picture of Michel Ekeba in his golden suit made of computer waste beside an abandoned plane.  He stands in the middle of a sprawling national park north of Kinshasa, revealing to an American viewer where their old phones and computers go. ten to 40 percent of American e-waste is exported abroad, in spite of international laws banning the practice, according to the Berkley Political Review.

Pictures line the wall of the CVAD gallery on June 28, 2022. John Anderson

The exhibit acts as more than an educational lesson about the e-waste crisis in Africa. Recycled art is a worldwide movement that exists beyond the Congo.

“It’s a really big inspiration because to me when I first saw this, I was like, ‘okay, I can make things like this,’” said April Galvan, a university drawing and painting junior who helped set up the exhibit. “I don’t need to go buy expensive paint.” 

At the center of the exhibit is the suit Ekemba wears in his performances in the streets of Kinshasa. Upon closer inspection, a jumble of wires, circuit boards and tubes glimmer under the gallery lights. One step back and one can see a golden astronaut, glowing and ethereal. 

The exhibit may be the brainchild of The Kongo Astronauts, but it was Rachel Kabukala, an Indiana University of Indiana-Birmingham student pursuing a doctorate in art history with a minor in African studies, who curated the exhibit. Though her doctoral studies focus on classical art, Kabukala said she tries to stay updated on contemporary art in the Congo. 

She crossed paths with The Kongo Astronauts’ work after curating an exhibition for Rice University in 2020. The exhibit included another well-known Congolese artist, Sammy Baloji. Baloji is represented by New York City-based Axis Gallery. The gallery, which focuses on both contemporary and traditional southern and eastern African art, also represented Kongo Astronauts. 

“I had seen some posts by the gallery on social media and was keen to facilitate an opportunity for them to present their work, as it feels incredibly timely for me,” said Kabukala. 

An astronauts stands in the CVAD gallery on June 28, 2022. John Anderson

The Astronaut theme is a take on the Schengen Agreement of 1985, in which a handful of colonial powers removed controls at their borders to promote free travel between the countries. Previously colonized countries like the Congo are not allowed these privileges after being colonized by Belgium for the first part of the 20th century. In “Untitled (Facing the Past),” Ekeba stands in an abandoned plane stripped of seats and equipment, a Kongo Astronaut stripped of his ability to lift off.

“The Congo Gravitational Waves” also includes a video titled “PostColonial Dilemma #3.” It is a wordless film with footage of a monkey blinking in a bright red room with spinning lights.

A mysterious being in a silver computer debris suit wandering the Congolese forest, engulfed in bright red lights. When the light clears, the being finds themself before a massive waterfall. He spreads his arms out in awe as he watches the water crash about a rocky ledge.

When it came to marketing the project, CVAD emphasized the importance of ignoring stereotypes and realizing the similarities that connect the average Dentonian with the people of Kinshasa. 

“After the exhibition was confirmed by CVAD, the only marketing role was to promote it,” said Monica Scott, assistant director for CVAD marketing. 

CVAD marketing advertised the Congo Gravitational Waves Exhibit using digital signage within the art building, through Facebook, Instagram and CVAD’s exhibit information webpage. 

I hope all will find their own interpretations in the exhibit while perhaps coming to understand the reflection of this work as inherently African,” CVAD Dean Karen Hutzel said in a statement to CVAD News. 

Featured Image: The Kongo Astronauts exhibit is displayed in the CVAD Gallery on June 28, 2022. Photo by John Anderson

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Hana Musa

Hana Musa

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